For Valentine’s Day, my wife and I bought the two-DVD set of the 1954 movie Gojira and the 1956 movie Godzilla, King of the Monsters. For those who don’t know, Gojira was the first movie to star the giant dinosaur-like creature that has terrorized Tokyo for over five decades. In 1956, an American distributor shot footage of Raymond Burr and edited the footage around some of the Japanese sequences and released the movie in the United States.
Both versions of the movie tell more or less the same story. Boats at sea mysteriously disappear. A scientific team is sent to a nearby island to investigate. While there, Gojira or Godzilla makes his first appearance. (The difference in the names has to do with the way the Japanese letters are rendered into English.) The scientists deduce that Godzilla is a creature from the age of the dinosaurs that was awakened by the atomic bomb attacks on Japan. Still hungry, Godzilla heads for Tokyo and rampages through the city. Realizing they must use extreme measures, a scientist is persuaded to use a terrible weapon to destroy Godzilla.
The Japanese version is a rather poignant movie exploring the on-going pain associated with the American attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The story of a love triangle is nicely interwoven around the monster story and adds to the overall emotional impact of the movie.
We decided to watch the American version first. Although it’s shorter than the original and is dominated by Raymond Burr’s scenes, the message of the original still managed to come through, at least somewhat. Even though the message of the original did come through, it was clear that the message was muted for American audiences. To me, it felt less like censorship and more like making a movie that would be more palatable to American audiences in the mid-1950s. I was surprised how little of the American version is dubbed. Instead, Burr is used to interpret the Japanese for the audience.
I highly recommend getting the two-DVD set with both versions of the movie. I found it interesting to compare the two versions. The American version was nostalgic for me while the Japanese version was eye-opening. Unfortunately, when Sony released Gojira on Blu-Ray, it appears that they only released the Japanese version, but not the American version.
As someone who writes and edits horror, I wanted to point out one scene in the Japanese Gojira that really haunts me. While the monster is rampaging through Tokyo, there is a scene of a mother hugging her children close. We gather the monster is nearby. She tells her children they will soon be with their father, who is presumably dead. The movie cuts back to the monster and we never see the mother or the children again. To me, this scene really gets to the essence of horror. It’s filled with dread and despair. However, there is not one drop of blood spilled. For all we know, the mother and the children escaped. Still, that scene haunts me more than scenes in many American horror films. Gojira nicely demonstrates that the best horror is more about exploring such emotions as dread, dismay and fear, and less about violence or gore.